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A look at the hottest communities in Montgomery County, Md.

Kensington is among the most popular communities in Montgomery County. (Justin T. Gellerson for The Washington Post)

If you’ve lived in Montgomery County long enough to make a mortgage payment, I do not need to tell you the cost of living is among the highest in the country. Yet median home prices in the county vary widely — from the mid $200,000s (Montgomery Village) to more than $1 million (Chevy Chase).

Data shows there are four metrics which tend to drive local home prices in Montgomery County — schools, Metro access, distance to D.C. and proximity to retail (pretty much in that order).

Here’s a look at the county’s most popular communities:

7. Olney

Overall Olney is affordable with the median home price around $455,000. The town center is eight miles from Glenmont Metro, 2.5 miles from the ICC-Georgia Avenue exit and boasts an ample amount of local restaurants and shopping. Olney is a popular spot for home buyers who are seeking an affordable suburban life. People seem to stay put and remain satisfied after moving to the area.

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6. Dickerson

Also commonly referred to as “horse country,” Dickerson is in the county’s northern agricultural preserve and is home to some of the area’s most beautiful scenery. Rolling hills, farmland and the famous Sugarloaf Mountain are all a part of Dickerson. Fun fact: You likely cannot build a new home on less than five acres in Dickerson because of the county’s agricultural preserve laws so home buyers seeking land and privacy (without moving too far away from retail and mass transit) love Dickerson.

5. Gaithersburg planned communities: Downtown Crown, Kentlands and Parklands

Sorry about having to do a catchall there, but it’s tough to separate the three popular planned-communities in the 20878 Zip code. Gaithersburg took a chance in the early to mid-1990s by developing Kentlands, which at that time was one of the first planned communities in the county. Later came Downtown Crown and Parklands. When Kentlands was constructed a lot of people did not see the value in self-sufficient “crammed communities” way out in the suburbs, but with the rise of urbanism and a new found appetite for walkability, planned communities in Gaithersburg have drawn home buyers and businesses.

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4. City of Takoma Park

Located directly outside Washington, Takoma Park is among the county’s unique communities because of very liberal laws (16 year olds can vote in local elections), city ordinances (do not try to cut down a tree for starters) and eclectic array of historical 1900s housing. The median home price is $510,000 making it overall affordable, and the city has walking access to local shops, a Metro stop, plus has its own police force and city government.

3. North Rockville (20850)

Rockville (much like Silver Spring) is a big city in the county comprised of multiple Zip codes spanning several miles. Richard Montgomery high is among the county’s best schools and the area is home to the award-winning Montgomery Community College. The Rockville Town Center and courthouse area give the region a plethora of dining and nightlife options.

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2. Kensington

Anchored by a historic district and longtime retail shops, Kensington has largely remained unchanged throughout the last 60 years. It has highly rated schools, community pride and continuity, local parks including Rock Creek Park, plus easy proximity to Bethesda and D.C. Housing is none too cheap but on average is still much less than other closer in communities like Chevy Chase and Cabin John.

1. Downtown Bethesda

Downtown Bethesda has the best of everything — schools, retail, proximity to D.C. and Metro access. Here’s the only drawback: The housing is outrageously expensive. The area attracts people in their 20s looking to check out nightlife as well as those who are downsizing and want a walkable lifestyle. The area also is home to some of the region’s largest employers so there’s a significant chance you won’t need to commute very far.

Jonathan Fox, a Realtor with Compass, writes an occasional column on Washington-area housing market conditions.